The Party Chasers is proudly putting smiles on the faces of many people during a global pandemic. This small business happens to be the only black-owned balloon store in the Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana area. Owner Trelane Grayson was introduced to the balloon business by her mother, who owned a floral shop back in the day. Her Mom taught her about entrepreneurship early and coaching her on designing balloon columns while she worked part-time in the floral shop. As time went on, she would use balloons as party décor for her children, family members, and friends. During 2004, people started referring Ms. Grayson to others, and she realized she could turn her hobby into an additional income source. During 2008, Ms. Grayson was hired by a local Matteson church to create a balloon design for an annual event. As time progressed, Ms. Grayson began to use the internet to gather information regarding balloon designs, balloon manufacturers, and certification information. There was so much information on the internet that encouraged her to pursue the Certified Balloon Artist designation.
While larger balloon and party suppliers like Party City are experiencing losses, The Party Chasers is thriving amidst a global pandemic. According to Nasdaq.com, Party City reported a loss for the 2nd quarter of 2020. This company has reported financial losses for the last four quarters. The balloon and party supplies chain announced 21 stores’ closure due to a less than stellar 2019 Halloween sales. Last year, Party City announced it would close 45 stores due to the global helium shortage. They hope to find a new helium source to help the company return to a “normal level” of balloon sales that they experienced in the past. Over the years, Party City has failed to update its operating model to adjust to the changing times, in addition to an unexpected global pandemic, and now it is struggling to keep itself afloat.
As the years went on, Ms. Grayson realized she was making more money part-time with The Party Chasers than her full-time corporate job. In 2018, she leaped out on faith and started working at the balloon business on a full-time basis. The Party Chasers is a family run business, where Ms. Grayson works alongside her Mother and daughter. Her daughter has been helping her with the company since she was a young girl, and she eventually became a certified balloon artist. She gets balloon requests from all over the country, including Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Atlanta, and Dallas. Ms. Grayson’s competitive advantage includes scheduling flexibility, various delivery locations, and going the extra mile to become a Certified Balloon Artist (CBA). Becoming a CBA involves self-study, classroom learning, intensive testing, and conducting a mock balloon delivery.
Before the initial onset of the COVID-19 virus, The Party Chasers were booked every weekend in March. Once the people started to shelter in place, customers began canceling all their events/orders. This was incredibly stressful to the point that Ms. Grayson thought she would have to close the shop and get a regular full-time job. Due to the social distancing mandates, they had to get creative to adapt and survive this unprecedented economic downturn. During April, Ms. Grayson decided to decorate her sister’s home for her 45th birthday and do an impromptu photoshoot. After the photos were posted on social media, the orders started pouring in for daily events instead of weekends only. They provided contact-less balloon decor for birthday parades, zoom birthdays, graduations, prom, and front lawn displays. She also had an overwhelming response for Mother’s Day with 15 deliveries in one single day! She notes this is the busiest she has ever been since the inception of the company. During the pandemic, she noticed the balloon industry was booming to the point of price gauging, changing requirements with minimum orders, shortages of specialty balloons, and delays from vendor deliveries. She was forced to get creative with her current inventory to make up for the lack of specialty balloon designs that typically ship from overseas. The keys to her sustainability include creating meaningful relationships with balloon manufacturers, other balloon vendors, and helium providers. Since the pandemic started, she has gotten requests for balloon décor for divorce parties and funerals (people want the balloons as keepsakes instead of flowers). Besides balloon artistry, she offers face painting, airbrushing, party décor rentals, event planning, and mobile bartending.
Lastly, Ms. Grayson plans to offer balloon classes in Winter 2020. As a result, she hopes her classes will allow her to introduce the balloon industry to aspiring black entrepreneurs. Her dream would be to see other black-owned balloon businesses in the future. The classes would consist of basic balloon décor, on-site training, mock deliveries, installation techniques, and a tool kit and supplies. Ms. Grayson notes her small black business is profitable and bringing joy to all amidst a global pandemic. She is grateful for the outpour of support that she has received over the last six months! Ms. Grayson said, “she is happy to wake up in the morning and do what she loves every day”!
For more information on The Party Chasers, please check out www.thepartychasers.com; IG: @thepartychasers; Facebook @thepartych